OffBeat

Teach your robot new tricks this Cyber Monday at the RobotsAppStore (video)

If you haven’t gotten a gift for your robot this Cyber Monday (what, you don’t have one yet?), you might want to think about visiting the RobotsAppStore, the Internet’s first portal for paid robot apps. The RobotsAppStore hosts a variety of programs created by enthusiasts worldwide who want to extend the functionality of robots everywhere.

A”programmable robot” is something of a misnomer if you stop to think about it. In order for a robot to do anything, it had to be programmed by somebody.

“The robot itself is just a device without the software,” says RobotsAppStore founder and chief executive officer Elad Inbar.  “The software is actually what is giving it the core, or the benefits that we humans want.” Reprogramming a robot to do something new really isn’t a leap. Neither is connecting it to the Internet in order to in download new programs. Hundreds of millions of smart phone owners do it every day to get Angry Birds, Yelp or apps that tell us when the next bus is going to arrive. Soon connecting a robot will be no different.

The smart phone revolution, which was ushered in by Apple’s iPhone, began little more than four years ago. Today there are more than 500,000 apps in the iTunes App Store.

There are 17 million personal robots in the wild, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Inbar says that there are 6 million Roomba units alone. Roombas are robots that automatically sweep and vacuum,  and use infrared to find their way around. They’ve been modified in a number of amusing ways, such as  being programmed to select a Guinness from a row of beer cans.

RobotsAppStore predicts that the market for robot apps will grow from around 500 apps today, to 750,000 unique apps within four years. At that rate there will 18 billion downloads, worth $3 billion.

Inbar brought a Nao humanoid robot to the VentureBeat office to demonstrate the capabilities of an App-store connected robot. Designed by Aldebaran Robotics from France, The Nao costs about $15,000, and is  just shy of two feet tall (57 centimeters). It walks upright and  has the same range of motions as a toddler. However, because it’s loaded with sensors, it has the ability to navigate a room, track objects and respond to people and faces.

In the video above, you can see the robot following a red ball based on programmer’s instructions. At 1:04, you can see Nao dancing along to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,’ and someone programmed the robot to mimic the choreography from the classic music video. What it could do someday is bound only by the limits of the human imagination. With such a wide variety of robotic forms already available, there are almost no end to the possibilities.

“They’re actually smart computers with motors, with cameras with sensors and so-on,” says Inbar.  “Applications is the next evolution. Applications is trivial. It has to happen.”

There are currently five members of  the RobotsAppStore team, and the company has received $250,000 in angel funding from friends, family and colleagues. The company is currently looking to raise a new round of investment.

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